Why do many US citizens qualify for Italian citizenship?

It is often thought that determining one’s eligibility for Italian citizenship by descent can be complex and overwhelming, but this article will explain why so many US citizens in fact do qualify and how it might not be as difficult as you think to get started on your path to citizenship.

In the United States, the Italian-American community is widespread but proud, and most importantly celebrates their ancestors that journeyed to America over a century ago in search of opportunity and prosperity. In fact, between 1880 and 1920, it’s estimated that 4 million Italians had immigrated to the United States, many coming from Southern Italy and Sicily to escape the rural poverty. Opened in 1892, most immigrants passed through Ellis Island in New York harbor. Many then settled in parts of New York and then slowly branched out across the country, creating close-knit Italian communities wherever they went. While there was pressure to assimilate, many anglicized their names and future generations slowly abandoned the Italian language, their core values and culture were never forgotten. Descendants of these first Italian immigrants still understand the importance of hard work, the strength of family, and the love and tradition found in a homecooked meal.

In recent years there has been a surge in applications for Italian citizenship by descent, allowing Italian-Americans to feel even more connected to their ancestral roots. The requirements to qualify for Italian citizenship by descent are fairly open and lenient compared to other countries and predominately rely on evidence showing a direct link between yourself and your most recent Italian-born ancestor. In fact, there is no language requirement, so a knowledge of the Italian language is not a prerequisite. The right to claim citizenship by descent is based on the principle called “jus sanguinis”, meaning right of blood in Latin. Also seen in several other countries, this is the principle by which you can claim citizenship of a country by virtue of being born to a parent who is a citizen of that country, regardless of your place of birth. According to the Italian law (91/1992), Italian citizenship is granted to those with a father or mother who was an Italian citizen at the time of the child’s birth. Therefore, the child of an Italian citizen who was born in the US is also considered an Italian citizen and can transfer his or her citizenship to the next generations.

While there is no generational limit and no language requirement to claiming this citizenship right, there are some other criteria to be aware of. First, your Italian-born ancestor must have been alive or born after March 17, 1861, which is when Italy became a unified country. Secondly, if he or she naturalized in another country, like the United States, it needs to have been after the birth of their child, the next in the lineage. This proves your ancestor was still an Italian citizen when the next generation was born and is evidence to your claim of Italian citizenship. Additionally, it is vital that no ancestors in your direct Italian line ever renounced their right to Italian citizenship.

Oftentimes you will have multiple Italian-born ancestors and potentially different avenues to consider when evaluating your claim to Italian citizenship by descent. If one ancestor naturalized before the birth of their child, this would break the chain and you would be unable to apply through that ancestor. However, it’s important to verify every viable path, including through a female ancestor. Although, if she gave birth to her child prior to January 1, 1948, your claim to Italian citizenship would need to be filed through the Italian court. This is because prior to this date, under the Italian citizenship law, only men were able to transfer citizenship to their children. When the Italian constitution went into effect on January 1, 1948, men and women were granted equal rights, giving women the ability to pass citizenship down to their future generations. Therefore, now the legal precedent states that the principles in the constitution should be applied retroactively, including events that occurred prior. This is why if you qualify for what is called a “1948 case”, your citizenship claim can be filed at the Italian court via a judicial proceeding.

To apply these principles to your Italian lineage, you may wonder what information is required to determine your own eligibility. Piecing together your family tree can be challenging but is oftentimes inspiring and enlightening. For many people, it starts with only a story, a family legend that’s been told for decades around the dinner table about how their ancestors left home and emigrated to the United States. However, for a successful citizenship application, vital records of everyone in your Italian lineage will be required. This starts with your Italian-born ancestor’s birth certificate, so determining the exact municipality where they were born will be critical. Genealogy websites are a great place to start if you have little information on your ancestors and are looking to fill in some of the blanks. If the location of birth is unknown, it can be possible to find it on the passenger list for the ship they traveled on to America. These passenger lists will also include information like their last residence, nationality, and final destination as well as place of birth. After the country’s unification in 1861, Italy began keeping detailed registers in each municipality of all vital records. Therefore, when making a request to retrieve a certified extract of your ancestor’s birth record, it will most likely be a simple process for the clerk to locate it. Even if you don’t know their exact year of birth, providing a range of a few years will usually suffice.

Lastly, the fundamental piece of the puzzle is your Italian-born ancestor’s naturalization status at the time of the birth of their child. You may have this in the form of an old passport or certificate of citizenship. It can be possible to also find digitized copies online of their naturalization records. It’s important to remember that a “Declaration of Intention” does not indicate a date of citizenship. These were simply their first papers, declaring their intent for US citizenship. Not until the oath of allegiance was signed and a certificate of citizenship was issued, did they become a US citizen.

If you’re interested in learning more about Italian citizenship by descent and how to determine your eligibility, don’t hesitate to contact us at info@italiancitizenshipassistance.com.